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Monday 20 November 2017

Kim Jong Un hints at new year ballistic missile test for North Korea

South Koreans watch Kim Jong Un deliver his New Year's Day speech on a TV news programme shown at Seoul railway station (AP)
South Koreans watch Kim Jong Un deliver his New Year's Day speech on a TV news programme shown at Seoul railway station (AP)
North Koreans gather to watch a New Year's fireworks display at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang (AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has hinted that Pyongyang may ring in the new year with another bang - the test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

In his annual new year address, Mr Kim said that after testing what the North claims was its first hydrogen bomb last year, preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile have "reached the final stage".

He did not explicitly say an ICBM test, which if successful would be a big step forward for the North, was imminent, but he has a birthday coming up - on January 8 - and last year Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test on January 6.

He threatened in the address to boost his country's military capabilities further unless the US ends war games with rival South Korea, but he also said efforts must be made to defuse the possibility of another Korean war and stressed the importance of building the economy under a five-year plan announced in May.

"The political and military position of socialism should be further cemented as an invincible fortress," Mr Kim said, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency. "We should resolutely smash the enemies' despicable and vicious moves to dampen the pure and ardent desire of the people for the party and estrange the people from it."

The address was shown on television, mixing video of Mr Kim speaking with stretches of just audio with still photos. It was less than 30 minutes long.

Under Mr Kim, who rose to power after his father's death in 2011, North Korea has made steady progress in its nuclear and missile programmes, including two nuclear tests in 2016. It recently claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in its goal of developing a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental United States.

UN resolutions call for an end to North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, but Mr Kim appears uninterested in complying.

The year ahead could be a tumultuous one in north Asia, with Donald Trump set to become the new US president on January 20, and South Korea's politics in disarray over a scandal that brought the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

Mr Kim indicated there will be no change in the North's nuclear policy unless Washington makes a major conciliatory first move, which, even with the advent of Mr Trump, seems unlikely.

Mr Trump has offhandedly suggested he would be willing to meet Mr Kim - but not in North Korea - and has at the same time indicated that he wants China to exert significantly more control over Pyongyang to get it to abandon its nuclear programme.

Demands from Pyongyang for the US to stop its joint military exercises with the South, and enter negotiations to sign a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, have fallen on deaf ears in Washington for years amid an atmosphere of distrust and deepening hostility.

Mr Kim is in his early 30s and is in his fifth year as the North's leader.

His new year addresses, and a marathon speech at the May ruling party congress, are a contrast with his enigmatic father, Kim Jong Il, who rarely spoke in public, but he has yet to meet a foreign head of state or travel outside North Korea since assuming power, and remains one the world's most mysterious national leaders.

AP

Press Association

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